There are nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States—more per capita than any other country on Earth. Taxpayers pay an average of $36,299.25 per year for every inmate in federal prison. However, in the nine years following release, 83 percent of former inmates released in 2005 were rearrested, according to a 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report. These stark figures should force a reckoning: is this system in any way just, and does it even deliver on its purported goal of preventing crime?

In recent years, scientific research has found robust support for the efficacy of an alternative, centuries-old approach to justice called restorative justice. Restorative justice has been found to both decrease recidivism and increase satisfaction with the justice process among those harmed by crime. In other words, it’s a breath of fresh air that may help tackle America’s mass incarceration crisis.

The term “restorative justice” was coined in 1977 by Albert Eglash. Eglash sought to differentiate the concept from retributive justice, the idea of meeting crime with punishment—the core guiding principle of the US criminal justice system. Restorative justice, on the other hand, aims first and foremost to heal the individuals and communities harmed by a crime and to rehabilitate those who caused the harm. (In restorative justice, terms like “offender” and “survivor” are typically avoided in favor of “person-first” language.)

Healing and rehabilitation begin through a process in which all those involved in a harmful situation decide the steps that can be taken to ameliorate the harm. The model has recently gained recognition in the U.S., but its roots are far deeper, dating back centuries to Indigenous peoples of present-day Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand. But what does restorative justice look like, and can it be meaningfully implemented in the present-day United States?

Read the full article at Michigan Journal of Public Affairs.